Visiting FCC commissioner questions legality of net neutrality laws

WOODSTOCK ­- Flying in the face of the Federal Communication Commission’s December decision to remove net neutrality requirements from internet providers, Washington state became the first state Monday to pass legislation re-instating the previous protections statewide.

During his visit to Central High School on Tuesday, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr discussed the legality of Washington’s actions.

Carr said that he had not “looked into the particulars of that particular state law yet,” but that in some scenarios the FCC decision overrules state’s authority.

“Our decision … does has a natural legal consequence which can preempt state efforts,” Carr said. “I think you’ll have to look at the intersection of that FCC decision and the particulars of the state law, and see how it plays out.”

On Monday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, into law the bill that prohibits internet providers from blocking content or throttling the speed of certain websites.

“We know that when D.C. fails to act, Washington state has to do so,” Inslee said.

Since the FCC’s ruling not only removed the net neutrality requirements, but also blocked states from instituting such rules, Washington state is liable to face legal challenges from the Trump administration or private internet service providers.

Net neutrality rules were most recently affirmed by the FCC under President Barack Obama in 2014. The commission argued then that internet traffic should be classified under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, granting internet providers similar legal status as telephone and radio providers.

“We were faced at the FCC with sort of a unique situation, which was we had this 1930s-era legal regime called Title II, and then, separately, we had net neutrality rules that were hung off of that Title II framework,” Carr said. “What we saw at the FCC was this Title II framework was leading to a decrease in investment in our broadband networks, which is the opposite of where we need to go.”

At the end of 2017, amid an unprecedented 23 million comments on the FCC’s website leading up to the vote, the FCC reversed the Title II classification.

“It’s important to remember that we didn’t create a vacuum where ISPs are completely free to engage in whatever conduct they want,” Carr said. “By reversing Title II, we restored the Federal Trade Commission’s authority, which is the country’s premier consumer protection agency.”

While the governors of New York and Montana have issued executive orders that require state officials to buy exclusively from internet providers that uphold the principles of net neutrality, Washington is the first state to explicitly defy the FCC’s ruling.

Carr also acknowledged that there are efforts on the federal level to undo the FCC’s deregulation of the broadband industry.

“There’s a couple of bills in Congress right now that are looking to do just that, which is do a stand-alone net neutrality bill. I certainly don’t oppose that by any stretch,” Carr said. “The current approach the FCC took, I think, protects consumers and is good for investment. But I have no problem if Congress wants to step in and adopt specific rules (enforcing) net neutrality.”